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Lieberman Rises in Polls, Likud Scared, Ketzaleh Challenges Both

Lieberman’s party is gaining significantly in pre-election polls at the expense of Kadima and Labor, yet it’s the Likud that’s running scared.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 2/3/2009, 1:53 PM

MK Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu, is gaining significantly in pre-election polls at the expense of the Kadima and Labor parties, yet it’s the Likud that’s running scared.

Two polls taken early this week by the Maagar Mohot (Brain Base) Survey Institute show that the Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party has gained tremendously in the polls. If elections were held now, these polls show, the party would receive 17-18 seats – compared to only 10 seats in three polls taken a month ago.

Lieberman Gains, Kadima and Labor Lose
Headed by Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu is widely perceived as a right-wing nationalist party – yet the findings show that its recent gains have come at the expense of Labor and Kadima. A month ago, Kadima was scoring 25-28 seats, while it has now dropped to 23. The Labor Party had 15-17 seats a month ago, and now stands at 12-13.

The Likud, on the other hand, has essentially retained its strength, according to these polls, with 30-31 seats throughout the month.
Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party do not rule out the creation of a Palestinian state.
Other polls show the Likud with fewer Knesset seats.

Despite this, the Likud appears to be the most concerned over the growth of Yisrael Beiteinu. Party leader Binyamin Netanyahu, still widely favored to become Israel’s next prime minister following the elections, has begun to harp on this message to the nationalist camp: “The Likud needs to be big in order to effectively rule the country.”

Netanyahu: Likud Must be Big
In his new daily video blog on the Likud website, Netanyahu says the government must “respond immediately” to the rocket attacks of the past two days on Ashkelon and other Israeli areas. He then concludes: “I’d like to ask something of you. I need a big Likud - in order to lead this country and in order to rule; in order to repair the economy and in order to guarantee security. But to get to a big Likud, I need you to vote for the Likud. Vote Machal [the Likud symbol in the ballot box] – vote Likud.”

Yisrael Beiteinu has gained a reputation for its nationalist stance, largely because of Lieberman’s tough talk against Arabs. He demands that their citizenship be contingent upon their loyalty to the State of Israel, has railed against Arab Knesset Members, and his most recent press release quotes a former Education Minister as saying, “The Arabs in the Land of Israel have all the rights – but not the right to the Land of Israel.” Lieberman has also taken a hawkish stance against the Palestinian Authority and against Iran.

However, in several areas, Lieberman promotes a secularist agenda that parts with the mainstream nationalist camp. He has said that he wants to see a nationalist-camp government, but one “in which the hareidim don’t have veto rights in matters of marriage, conversion to Judaism, and governmental change.”

Lieberman Does Not Rule Out Palestinian State
In addition, he does not rule out the creation of a Palestinian state. The party’s website states, “The currently proposed arrangement is for Israel to destroy all Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria, as occurred in Gush Katif – i.e., the establishment of a homogeneous Palestinian state without any Jews, while the State of Israel becomes a bi-national state with over 20% minority members. A model like this cannot last… Therefore, even theoretically, the arrangement must be symmetrical and must guarantee long-term stability… The solution must include maximal separation between the two peoples.”

United Jerusalem?
Though his platform takes a strong stand in favor of a united Jerusalem, this was not always the case. As recently as October 2007, then-Minister Lieberman suggested at a cabinet meeting that Israel should divide Jerusalem and transfer several Arab-populated neighborhoods to PA control.
Ketzaleh: "Lieberman is yet likely to recommend that Tzipi Livni, and not Netanyahu, be the one to form the government.”

His party platform at the time stated, "Unless there is a partition between the Arab residents of metropolitan Jerusalem and its Jewish residents, Israel will find itself with an additional 200,000 Arab-Israelis who will turn Jerusalem into a city with an Arab majority… Neighborhoods like Jabel Mukaber, A-Ram and others can go to Palestinian sovereignty."

In addition, a new book by former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk states that Lieberman told a top Arafat advisor in the year 2000 that the “broad outlines of [then-PM Ehud] Barak’s territorial offer [of 95-98% of Judea and Samaria, as well as a division of Jerusalem] would be acceptable to the national right-wing bloc.”

Ketzaleh on the Offensive
Yaakov “Ketzaleh” Katz, head of the Ichud HaLeumi (National Union) party, has come out strongly against Lieberman. “He is yet likely to recommend that Tzipi Livni, and not Netanyahu, be the one to form the government,” Katz said over the weekend.

“Lieberman will divide Jerusalem,” Ketzaleh warns, “and has expressed willingness to give up neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. He talks right-wing [nationalist] before the elections, but the fact is that he was a member of the Olmert government. Our party not only speaks right-wing, but we also act right-wing.”

Ketzaleh has also explained why the Likud should not be an option for religious-Zionist voters: “The polls show that the Likud will only get 29-30 Knesset seats. If the religious-Zionist voters who support the Likud would vote for us, then many left-wing candidates on the Likud list will not get into the Knesset - while we [Ichud Leumi] could get 10 seats! We must not let [the Likud] steal away national-religious votes for people like Dan Meridor, Assaf Chefetz, and others."